Common Korean Words for Foreigners

This topic will discuss essential Korean words for foreigners to learn.  These are just a few words to get you started, but we recommend looking at a set of flashcards like these or other types of quick speaking guides if you are planning a trip to Korea soon.

foreigner learning koreanName

The word “name” in Korean is “이름,” pronounced as ee-reum.

What is it?

The phrase “what is it? Or “what is~?” is written as “뭐야?/뭐에요?”  In English, typically the object comes after the verb and thus the sentence structure would be “what is this box?”  In Korean, however, the object comes before the verb and so the correct sentence structure for the same meaning is “box what is?”

The phrase without a preceding object automatically means “What is it?” The first phrase “뭐야” is a more colloquial, friendly term, pronounced as mo-yah?  The second phrase “뭐에요” is a more respectful, polite term, pronounced as mo-eh-yo.

To combine these concepts, the sentence “what is your name?” is “이름 뭐야?” or “이름 뭐에요?” ee-reum mo-ya? or “ee-reum mo-eh-yo?”

Where

The phrase uh-di- means ”where.”  Exactly as the example given above, the colloquial term is uh-di-yah and the respectful term is uh-di-eh-yo.  The object of the question comes before the phrase.  For example, if I were to ask “where is Mary?” I would ask Mary uh di ya? to my friend, or Mary uh di eh yo? to an elder person.

Alcohol

The most famous Korean alcohol is called soju. The word ju means alcohol, so it is easy to refer to any other type of alcohol, such as maekju, which is beer, and yangju, which is whiskey. The word Ju-ryang is alcohol tolerance, and is measured as how many shots/ bottles of soju one can consume in one sitting.

Body Parts

Some basic words for body parts are: eye is noon; and tears is noon-mool (Mool, by itself, means water and thus noon-mool literally means “eye water”); “Nose” is koh and “mouth” is ib; “Lip” is ib-sool; Sohn means “hand” and bal means foot.

As a part of jon dat mal, there are different ways of calling someone.  It is okay to call someone by his or her name if that person is younger than the speaker.  However, if the speaker is a female and talks to an older male, she would call him oppa.  In case of an older female, she would call her unni.  If the speaker is a male and is talking to an older male, he would call him hyung.  In case of an older female, he would call her noona.  In cases when the age gap is too much, or the two person have never met before, the terms may be too casual to use.  It is important to understand these cultural sensitivities and be formal in case of ambiguous situations.

Showing Respect

To show respect towards a person, simply add a -nim suffix at the end of the name or noun.  It is similar to the function of “Mr.” or “Ms.” in the English language, though a little different.

Clerks in stores or nurses in a hospital would add -nim to their clients’ name to show respect and politeness.  Also certain profession have –nim added to their title, such as doctors, teachers, or lawyers etc.  These jobs would be referred to as “doctor-nim,” “teacher-nim,” and “lawyer-nim” in Korean.

In work place, it is customary to call someone using their surname and rank.  For example, if John Kim is a director, he would be called “Kim Director.”  It is considered extremely unprofessional to call someone by his or her name or the by the examples mentioned above (oppa, noona, hyung, unni).  When a junior employee needs to address a senior employee, he or she would add –nim to the end of the title: “Kim Director-nim.”

In cases when the senior employee addresses a junior employee, he or she would merely be called by the title: Lee analyst, or by name, in a more casual environment.

Conjunctions

The conjunctions sound similar so they require an extra amount of time and care to remember.

“And” is geu ri go and “but” is geu run dae or geu ru na.  “So” is gue rae suh.  Other useful conjunctions are tta moon ae, meaning “because” or “because of,” and also “neither / or” which are both pronounced as hog eun.

Negatives

There are two prefixes that displays negativity: ahn- and mot-.  The former is equivalent to “won’t” and the latter is equivalent to “can’t,” but both cannot be used by themselves.

To mean “won’t” or “can’t,” they are used as ahn geu rae and mot geu rae (geu rae means “does” or “yes”).  Combined with the verb Hae, which means “do,” ahn hae means “I won’t do,” and mot hae means “I can’t do.”

Usually when describing the opposite of an adjective, the prefix ahn- is used.  For adjective ye bbuh (pretty), the opposite is ahn ye bbuh (not pretty).  The opposite of adjective bbal lah (fast) is ahn bbal lah (not so fast).

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